Tag Archives: Trump

Mainstream media “mob violence” over Helsinki summit

Professor Cohen is always good value and we should take these comments of his seriously. After all, there is nothing more serious today than the threat of war between the US and the Russian Federation. Yet we have politicians and the mainstream media preferring to promote this threat. They seem to want to prevent any step towards relaxing international tension and divert attention by waving their dirty domestic laundry on the international scene.

Yes I know, I will probably be attacked (again) for using a clip from Tucker Carlson and Fox. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to ignore or reject serious arguments because they appear on a “non-approved,” “non-official,” or alternative media. But be honest – that reaction, and the fact it is a knee-jerk one, simply demonstrates the self-censorship which people have had imposed on them.

Particularly in this case where Professor Cohen is not given any space on the “liberal-approved” mainstream media to present his highly sensible views.

The worst aspect of all this is the diversion of public opinion from what should be the substance of such summits.

What is this media hysteria and bullying, and self-censorship, doing? It is preventing consideration of the real content of this important international summit.

No discussion of real issues

Where is the media discussion on questions (and possible moves towards agreement on these questions) like a return to the Start Nuclear Treaty, the danger presented by stationing anti-ballistic missile systems in Europe, problems created by US withdrawal from the Iran Treaty and the Paris climate change agreements, provision of security for Israel, settlement of the war in Syria, humanitarian aid to the victims of that war, the fight against terrorism, a treaty on cyberwar, etc., etc? Things that really matter and affect the future of this planet and its people.

Why is it that US journalists at the Summit press conference showed absolutely no interest in these substantive issues? They were simply there to fight out their non-acceptance of the 2016 election result.

I think this is disgusting. Instead of attempting to prevent war and to do something substantial to reduce international tension the US establishment is carrying out their dirty domestic partisan warfare in public. We have a media-intelligence agency coalition fighting with a President who (maybe wisely) refuses to take the fight head on. A strong president might be expected to take on an intelligence establishment which has become partisan and is actively constricting his actions. Instead, he appears to mumble and backtrack like a coward.

No sensible person would ever claim to have full confidence in the US intelligence establishment – come on, look at their record.

A media created smokescreen

But meanwhile the real interests of people in the US, and indeed the world, get ignored by a compliant media.

And groups and commenters on social media get sucked in by this circus like easy fools.

Come on, there are real problems in the world – the Trump circus is a diversion imposed on you by the US media-political-intelligence establishment. An establishment which still works, behind the smokescreen they have created, to impose their diktat on the world.

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Select your conspiracy theory and connect the dots

I have never liked conspiracy theories.  The fact they are generally ideologically driven and not evidence-based simply turns me off and does nothing to encourage me to pursue the claims.

On the other hand, one must admit the truth of the common sense claim – “Just because it is conspiracy theory doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

Perhaps the best approach is to try to look behind the publicly promoted claims of the conspiracy theorists and simply consider the credibility of the evidence to the extent it exists. That has been my approach to the heavily promoted conspiracy theory asserting Russian interference/collusion in the last US presidential elections.

Surely that is better than simply accepting the political claims and ignoring the evidence, or, as in this case, the lack of evidence. Particularly as Russophobia is endemic in the US and their politicians are well-known for using red herring tactics.

An alternative conspiracy?

But it is becoming obvious to me that there is more than one conspiracy theory circulating on this issue in the US. There is the well-promoted claim that state agencies of the Russian Federation interfered in the US presidential elections and that Donald Trump and his staff colluded in this interference.

There are a number of investigations of this claim and evidence is coming to light supporting a second conspiracy theory. It is relatively new but seems to be gaining power by the day.

This theory asserts that there was a conspiracy within some elements of the intelligence agencies and the FBI – and possibly even former president Obama. Initially, this aimed to support the Democratic candidate, Hilary Clinton, by thwarting investigations of her illegal use of emails. But it then progressed to a search for and release of damaging material on the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, to prevent his election. And once elected to attempt his removal.

The video above gives the clearest and most detailed explanation of this “conspiracy” and the evidence for it I have seen so far. The speaker is Joe diGenova, a former federal prosecutor. The Daily Caller article, The Obama Administration’s ‘Brazen Plot To Exonerate Hillary Clinton’ Starting To Leak Out, According To Former Fed Prosecutor says:

“Joe diGenova . . . connects the dots on former Obama administration Justice Department and FBI officials who may have “violated the law, perhaps committed crimes” to politicize law enforcement and surveillance against political opponents.”

If this particular conspiracy theory pans out it may prove more dramatic, and more damaging, than the alternative theory alleging Russian collusion/interference.

Of course, readers have a right to question this theory too (and let’s be clear it is not one that I accept hook, line, and sinker as the world is never that simple). But it is early days. This particular conspiracy theory is just starting to get legs and coverage in the media (although only limited coverage in the mainstream or “official” media). The congressional investigations have only recently turned attention to what was going on in the FBI and are still collecting evidence.

Supporters of the Russian collusion/interference conspiracy theory often acknowledge that even after 18 months no credible evidence has been produced but appeal to people to wait until the investigations have finished. They seem to have faith that something explosive will be uncovered to support the claims. Well, what is good for the goose is good for the gander – and given the early days of the alternative conspiracy theory there is an even stronger argument not to dismiss it out of hand at this stage.

A secret society?

Peter Strzok and Lisa Page – FBI employees whose secret texts are feeding a new conspiracy theory.

I referred to the FBI Strzok-Page texts in my article Is “Russiagate” another deception like Iraqi WMDs? This is a developing story –  only last Friday the congressional committees received another larger batch of these texts but were informed that many of them have gone missing. (see More texts turned over from FBI agent taken off Mueller team). The FBI claims they were “accidentally” deleted – but the highly critical period covered by the deleted texts – from December 14 to May 17 – the period from soon after Trump’s election until the Mueller special investigation started, do cause suspicions.

Especially as a text exchange the day after Trump’s election contained the sentence: “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society.” Investigators are surely justified in asking what this “secret society” was and what was its purpose.

Another text message released, by Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, was sent two days after Mueller was named special counsel for the Russia Investigation (see In ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Text, Peter Strzok Expressed ‘Concern’ About Joining Mueller Team). Presumably in response to Page asking if he would participate:

“You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern that there’s no big there there.“

Interesting!

However these two conspiracy theories pan out, whatever the evidence produced to support them, this whole adventure is turning out to be far more interesting to those of us who wish to dig below the surface than we would have thought 18 months ago.

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Whose who in the Russiagate affair – an infographic

The Epoch Times Managing Editor, Jasper Fakkert, takes viewers through the infographic prepared by his paper on the “Russiagate affair.” Unfortunately, I cannot embed the video but viewers can see it at this Facebook link

The Epoch Times recently published a very useful infographic for anyone interested in following the “Russian interference/collusion” story which US politicians are currently obsessed with. It is in the article Fusion GPS and the ‘Insurance Policy’ to Prevent Trump From Becoming President.

I have reproduced it below – but click on it to enlarge so you can read the individual entries. I actually printed off an enlarged form to keep as a reference.

Click on image to enlarge

While the infographic provides a good overview and some useful references worth following up there is also a Politico article which you will find useful if you want more detail.  The 270 people connected to the Russia probes provides brief detail and useful links.

The numbers are somewhat inflated – lawyers and contacts help build up the total number. The links are mostly to media articles (which are of course either extremely biased or the gospel truth depending on what biases you wish to confirm).  But some of the links are to documents, in particular, testimonies, which are of far more value.

Natalia Veselnitskaya – met with Trump Jr on June 9, 2016. Image Credit: CNN Poltics.

One testimony that is worth reading is that given by the Russian Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She was the lawyer described by the media as having a central role in the infamous Trump Towers meeting with Donald Trump Jr on June 9, 2016.

Despite its length and her preoccupation with the legal case she was working on, her testimony is very informative and worth downloading.  I always think it best to consult documents like this and not rely on news media reports. In this case, do not expect the media reports to confirm the evidence the lawyer presented to the Senate committee.

Sadly, this example of the wide deviation between evidence and media reports is probably typical of most aspects of this current US political preoccupation.

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“Fire and Fury” exposes the fundamental problems of the anti-Trump movement

Anti-Trump lowbrowism burst into full bloom with the new Michael Wolff book. Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters

I have long considered myself a “lefty,’ a “liberal” and a “progressive.” But I have despaired over the last 18 months at the behaviour of what I have often considered “my side.” The sinking of “fellow liberals” into a quagmire of political partisanship, political conspiracy theories, confirmation bias and hateful hostility to anyone daring to present an alternative viewpoint distresses me. I have personally been called pro-Nazi and pro-white supremacist for defending freedom of speech and daring to point out simple facts. And this by people from “my side.”

It all suggests the story of the emperor who had no clothes and I can sympathise with those people who have adapted to this atmosphere by simply shutting up. I have found myself also doing that at times as there no longer appears to be room for a reasoned discussion among “liberals” and people on the “left.”

I keep telling myself this will pass – and perhaps we are starting to see a glimmer of hope. A new opinion piece by David Brooks in the New York Times (which has unfortunately often fed the confirmation bias, political partisanship and conspiracy theories) is a hopeful sign. His article The Decline of Anti-Trumpism outlines many of the feelings I have had over the last year about the anti-Trump (and anti-Russian) hysteria in the US.

Lets’ be clear – Brooks’ article is not a defence of Trump – he declares himself  a “proud member” of “the anti-Trump movement.” That is also my position – but not in a party political partisan way. After all, I do not live in the US and if I did I would not have voted for either Trump or Clinton.

Reducing everything to a fairy tale

Brooks believes the anti-Trump movement seems to be “getting dumber:”

“It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us.

I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.”

That’s what I noticed from early on – yet to challenge these fairy tales, particularly the dangerous conspiracy theory of “Russian collusion,” just means one gets called one of “Putin’s useful idiots” or pro-Trump, pro-Nazi and a white supremacist. And this is by people who I have considered in the past as rational – people who should know better.

Insularity and lowbrowism

The anti-Trump movement has all the marks of an internet silo – if a big one – which excludes any contrary viewpoint.

“The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him.  . . .  So they get most of their information about Trumpism from others who also detest Trumpism, which is always a recipe for epistemic closure.

The movement also suffers from lowbrowism. Fox News pioneered modern lowbrowism.[It] offers a steady diet of affirmation, focuses on simple topics that require little background information, and gets viewers addicted to daily doses of righteous contempt and delicious vindication.”

“Fire and Fury”

Maybe Brooks has come to this position relatively recently as he writes  “anti-Trump lowbrowism burst into full bloom with the Wolff book.” He is, of course, referring to the latest “exposures” in the just-published book Fire and Fury.” it is selling like hot cakes. I even have my own copy but am unsure now whether to waste time reading it. Wile the mainstream media is promoting it more rational comments suggest the book is a disaster. Brooks says of the author:

“Wolff doesn’t pretend to adhere to normal journalistic standards. He happily admits that he’s just tossing out rumors that are too good to check. As Charlie Warzel wrote on BuzzFeed, “For Wolff’s book, the truth seems almost a secondary concern to what really matters: engagement.”

The ultimate test of the lowbrow is not whether it challenges you, teaches you or captures the contours of reality; it’s whether you feel an urge to share it on social media.”

That description seems to me to describe the whole anti-Trump, Russian collusion story right from the beginning. Brooks points out this is not good:

“I’ve noticed a lot of young people look at the monotonous daily hysteria of we anti-Trumpers and they find it silly.”

There is more to life than Trump

On the one hand, this sort of hysteria weakens the “anti-Trump movement,” or of more concern, it discredits serious attempts to fight against the harmful policy of the current US president and Congress. There are many harmful policies that need fighting against and it is silly to see the anti-Trump hysteria as contributing anything to those specific struggles.

More seriously, Brooks points out that this descent into a quagmire of irrational confirmation bias, political partisanship and political conspiracy theories is of wider concern – and more long-term concern:

“This isn’t just a struggle over a president. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?

Or, are we going to restore the distinction between excellence and mediocrity, truth and a lie? Are we going to insist on the difference between a genuine expert and an ill-informed blowhard? Are we going to restore the distinction between those institutions like the Congressional Budget Office that operate by professional standards and speak with legitimate authority, and the propaganda mills that don’t?”

Footnote

Another example of this low brow hysteria “bursting into full bloom,” in this case over the Russian collusion myth, is the book Collusion by former Moscow correspondent for the Guardian, Luke Harding. This interview with Harding illustrates again how the current narrative has become dominated by mediocrity and lies and not truth and excellence.

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Are we all anti-fascist now?

US neo-Nazis and fascists supporters march in Charoltsvill, USA.
Image credit: Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via Reuters

Wouldn’t that be nice? What if the current almost universal condemnation of fascism by the main stream media and social media commenters were genuine.? That it represents an abhorrence for fascism and its modern supporters who attempt to revive it – and not just partisan politics.

Because fascism is abhorrent. And it does have its modern apologists, even revivalists. It is not new, even in the US, and people shouldn’t be surprised at its manifestation in Charlottesville.

After all, we have seen similar actions in other parts of the world – in parts of the world which understandably understand fascism and its consequences far better than the average US citizen does.

Thousands of nationals, neo-Nazis and pro-fascists march in Kiev, Ukraine, on the anniversary of the birth of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.
Image credit: South China Morning Post.

Yes, I know. Our media tends to treat the marchers in Kiev and Riga as “freedom fighters” and not what they really are – supporters of  Nazi collaborators and those organisations derived from them which still exist today and play a role in the politics of those countries. But, unlike the USA, those collaborators were responsible for thousands of deaths of their fellow citizens(see my article Don’t put all the blame on the Germans – a lesson from World War II).

Supporters of Latvia’s Waffen-SS legion hold an annual commemoration Nazi SS division formed from Latvians during World War Two. Image Credit: The Telegraph.

 

Sculpture of the “Unbowed man” at the Khatyn Memorial site near Minsk in Byelorussia. The sculpture depicts Yuzif Kaminsky, the only adult to survive the massacre by Ukrainian Nazi groups, holding his dead son Adam.
Image credit: John Oldale.

Which brings me to my real message – my suggestion for action

Why not take advantage of this new-found anti-fascist feeling? Rather than let the lessons of Charlotteville disperse and die out why not do something meaningful and specific? Something that might last. And something with an international influence.

My suggestion – the US should change its stance next time the regular United Nations General Assembly resolution on “Combating the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” comes up.

The resolution expresses concern about the fact that in some countries, famed Nazi movement leaders and former members of the SS are honoured, and monuments to fighters (e.g partisan heroes) against fascism are demolished or subjected to desecration. It calls on states to pass legislation prohibiting the denial of crimes against humanity and war crimes during the Second World War.

It was last passed in November 2016. Then the only countries voting against the resolution were Ukraine, the United States and Palau!

Just imagine, if the US goes with its current anti-fascist feelings it could, at last, vote for this resolution. Of course, Palau as a client state will also automatically reverse its vote.

As for Ukraine – well, who could say the country is such a mess. Chances are the current government in Kiev may not be in power next time the vote occurs. But, unfortunately, the extreme nationalist and neo-fascist forces which seem to dictate affairs in that country will still be around.

But what about closer to home

Can not New Zealand also learn from the current anti-fascist feelings emanating from the USA? New Zealand traditionally takes the cowards way out and abstains on this resolution. Apparently aligning itself with the 131 countries supporting the resolution in 2016 would have caused too much displeasure from the USA – something we still seem to be afraid of. So we joined the group of 48 countries that abstained.
But, I guess, if the USA changed heart and voted for the anti-fascist resolution we would meekly snap into line and also vote for it.

A job for the US (and NZ) House of Representatives?

OK, the current US president may be even less willing than previous presidents to take a real international stand against fascism. But don’t we have some recent history that might provide a solution. Why don’t the US Congress and Senate follow on from their recent almost unanimous resolutions constraining the president in his handling of international affairs?

They made it impossible for President Trump to take any action on sanctions against Iran, North Korea and the Russian Federation without a decision from Congress.

So why not a near unanimous Congressional resolution demanding the USA in future votes for this resolution in the UN General Assembly? A resolution that prevents the US Ambassador from voting against it again without a decision from Congress?

Perhaps the New Zealand Parliament could place a similar restriction on our representatives at the UN

After all, aren’t we all anti-fascist now?

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The main stream media is out of touch

I find the US mainstream media particularly boring and uninformative these days. It has become embedded in a partisan political campaign and seems to go into a frenzy over every bit of “evidence” or fake news it can garner, invent, or exaggerate in an apparent attempt to reverse the results of last year’s presidential elections.

I think many people must be heartily sick of this campaign. I would not be surprised if this is encouraging many to turn to alternative news sources and I suspect this media obsession is encouraging an increasing mistrust of the mainstream media.

But it is not just a matter of all the fake news and media lies. This political campaign is diverting media attention away from the things that really concern people. After all, they had their election last year and sensible presidential challenges should be off the burner until 2000. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of problems the ordinary person expects their government, and the media, to come to grips with.

So I am not surprised to see recent polling identifying a huge mismatch between the concerns of the media and the concerns of the public. Jon Gabriel’s Ricochet article What Americans Care About vs. What the Media Cares About illustrates this in the following graphic.

Constraining the President

Frankly, I think this US political hysteria is being produced by an alliance of the media, elements of the intelligence community and the “establishment” in general. For one reason or another, they just can not accept the result of the 2016 election and would like to see that result reversed. At the very least, they are using this artificial campaign to constrain the president in areas like foreign policy where they have big differences.

Perhaps pressure from the neocons and deep state to constrain and control a new president is not new. Certainly, we saw this with President Obama. But the campaigners have resorted to a more public and hysterical pressure in President Trump’s case because he is basically a political outsider. He came out of “left field,” was not part of the “acceptable” political establishment and is a maverick. His personality makes him difficult to control in the normal, behind the scenes, way.

Media does itself no favours

There are a number of objective factors creating turmoil for the mainstream media these days. transfer of advertising to social media, changes in technology and the loss of skilled reporters. But the old, established media is not doing itself any favours by diverting into a blatantly partisan political campaign and resorting to such bias in its reporting. And it harms society by encouraging the growth of neo-McCarthyism and supporting those who are working to reduce international cooperation and the relaxation of tension. That is dangerous for the American people – and in fact for the whole world.

But I guess the upside is that this self-exposure of bias is an education to the public. They may now search for alternatives – and that is a good thing. They will also be a lot more critical of what is delivered to them by the news media – and that is also a good thing.

The reader does need to beware – and to question more.

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Debating science

The Science March in Palmerston North. Credit: Erin Wilson, Twitter.

This last week has certainly raised the profile of the “science debate” in New Zealand. Most importantly we saw big turnouts for the Science March in several major cities – a demonstration that lots of scientists and supporters of science feel that science could be threatened – or at least that it is unappreciated by the politicians and other decision-makers. Maybe even by a section of the public.

And at the other end of importance, we saw a childish spat by local anti-fluoride activists who had attempted to use a member of Parliament’s experience of miscarriages to make the scaremongering claim that these were caused by community water fluoridation. Then they attempted to divert attention from the embarrassing (for them) widespread condemnation by promoting, through their own press releases,  the fake news they had organised a “TV debate” on fluoridation with a local scientist.

The Science March

The Science March was many things to many people. I saw it as a general demonstration of support for science and opposition to attempts to discredit science – examples being the science around climate change, vaccinations, evolution – and yes even fluoridation. Some of the media presented it as a demonstration against US president Trump and his policies – and there may have been many in the US Science Marches who had these motivations. But every country and every region have examples where politicians have downplayed scientific evidence or even attempted to discredit that evidence and the scientists who produced it. These sort of struggles went on long before Trump and they will go on after Trump.

For example, in New Zealand, we have some specific issues over water quality and climate change which are quite unconnected to the US and its politicians. We have to fight out those issues here. Scientists, anyway, strongly resist linking their issues to politics and political movements. We have had a few bad experiences from that. This resistance and the silly intervention of identity politics into the organisation of the US Science Marches did make many scientists wary of participation.

But, in the end, the Science Marches around the world had good turnouts and my impression is that participants felt they had been both worthwhile for science and good experiences personally.

Of course, the Science March will not make the problems go away. There is still a need for the day to day struggle on issues like climate change, water and environmental quality and even fluoridation. This is one of the points I attempted to make in my article Trump didn’t invent the problems – and his opponents didn’t invent protest.

Debating science

And this is where a continuing debate around science issues is important. To be clear – I am not using the word “debate” in the formal sense (more on that later) but in its most general sense. And not necessarily debate involving specific contact between adversaries.

Issues about water quality and the environment come up continually in New Zealand. In the media, in local body and parliamentary considerations, and in government statements. A lot of the commentary may downplay the science on the issue or overplay economic and financial aspects. Some of the commentaries may be outright anti-science – or present misinformation, even distortions, about the science. Activist claims about the “dangers” of the use of 1080 to control predator pests are an example.

The misinformation and downplay of scientific information cannot be allowed free passage – it must be challenged. Hence there is a debate – again not a formal debate, but a debate, nevertheless. The public is exposed to various claims and counterclaims via the media and the internet. Regional bodies and parliamentary committees are deluged with submissions and scientists and supporters of science have a role to play there too.

Scientists and supporters of science should not stand aside and let the opposition win by default – simply because they abhor the political process or ego-driven participation in media reports. But they need to choose their battles – and they need to consider the effectiveness or otherwise of different forms of participation in public debate.

Problems with formal debates

So what about formal debates of the sort the Fluoride Free New Zealand (FFNZ – the local anti-fluoride organisation) claimed via their press releases to have organised? A TV debate between New Zealand Scientist Professor Michelle Dickinson from Auckland University, and Dr. Paul Connett – chief guru at the US Fluoride Action Network. This proved to be a kickback from FFNZ, a diversion from the bad publicity that came their way when Dickinson publicly criticised their use of scaremongering tactics in an email sent to a Green member of parliament. Public commenters were disgusted at the FFNZ claim the miscarriages she had suffered were caused by community water fluoridation.

Professor Dickinson pointed out she had not agreed to a TV debate (which FFNZ then childishly used in another press release to claim she had reneged). And Dr. Paul Connett did not even publicly respond – indicating that while the debate challenge had been made in his name he knew nothing about it.

Kane Titchener, the Auckland FFNZ organiser who made the challenge to Michelle Dickinson, is a bit of a Walter Mitty character and often makes debate challenges in Paul Connett’s name, but without his authorisation. These challenges are his way of avoiding the discussion of the science when he is outgunned. He made a similar challenge to me four years ago – I called his bluff and nothing happened. The debate I did eventually have with Paul Connett was arranged through Vinny Eastwood (a local conspiracy theorist who promote anti-fluoride propaganda), not Kane Titchener – who was probably not even in contact with Connett.

But, in general, scientists are unwilling to take part in the sort of formal debates Kane Titchener was proposing. There are often similar challenges made to evolutionary scientists by creationists and religious apologists, and to climate scientists by climate change deniers. Scientists generally feel their opposition make these challenges in an attempt to gain recognition or status they do not deserve. (I think in this particular case Kane Titchener may have naively thought he could use Michelle Dickinson’s connections with TV personalities to get Connett on TV – something he has found impossible on his recent visits to NZ).

Another, more important, reason is that such formal debates are usually more entertainment than information. In fact, debating is a recognised form of entertainment often driven by egos and aimed at ‘scoring points’ which appeal to a biased and motivated audience. They are rarely a way of providing information and using reasoning to come to conclusions – which is the normal and accepted process of scientific discussion.

Good faith discussion

Don’t get me wrong – I am not opposed to all forms of one-on-one “debate” or discussion. These can be useful – especially when the audience is not stacked by biased activists. An exchange of scientific views or information in front of an interested but unbiased audience can be a useful and good experience.

Similarly on-line, written debates or discussion of the sort I had with Paul Connett in 2013/2014 can also be useful (see Connett & Perrott, 2014. The Fluoride Debate). In this format, ego and debating or entertainment skills are less effective. Participants need to produce information – and back it up with evidence, citations or logic. And one’s discussion partner always has the opportunity to critically comment on that information.

I feel that debate was successful – it enabled both sides to prevent information in a calm way without put downs or ego problems. I often use that debate when I want to check out citations and claims. Interestingly, though, Paul Connett behaves as if the debate never happened – claiming that no-one in New Zealand has been prepared to debate him. The FFNZ activists do the same thing. Ever since that debate, I have been blocked from commenting on any anti-fluoride website or Facebook page in New Zealand and internationally. It’s almost as if some sort of Stalinist order went out to treat me like a “non-person.”

A challenge to anti-fluoridation activists

If these activists are so keen on debating the issue then why don’t they allow it to happen? Why do they block pro-science people from commenting on their Facebook pages? Why do they ignore open letters and offers of rights of reply of the sort I sent to Stan Litras and other anti-fluoride activists (see A challenge to anti-fluoridationers to justify their misrepresentation of New Zealand research). Why did Lisa Hansen – the solicitor for the NZ Health Trust who has been making incorrect scientific claims in her High Court cases opposing fluoridation ignore my offer of a right of reply (see Open letter to Lisa Hansen on NZ Fluoridation Review)? Even the “great helmsman” himself, the man who Kane Titchener seems to think will answer all the questions, refuses to respond to offers of right of reply (see Misrepresenting fluoride science – an open letter to Paul Connett).

Why do these people ignore such opportunities?

One thing I noticed about the submission made by opponents of community water fluoridation to the recent parliamentary Health Committee consideration of the Fluoridation Bill was the overwhelming reliance on scientific claims in almost all their submissions. Claims that fluoridation causes IQ loss, fluorosis and a whole host of sicknesses. Many of the submitters actually used citations to scientific journals or attached copies of scientific papers.

These people claim they have science on their side – yet they seem to be extremely shy about discussing that science in any open way. Why is that?

No, it’s not a matter of Walter Mitty types making debate challenges in the name of Paul Connett. Why don’t Kane Titchener, Mary Byrne, Stan Litras, Lynn Jordan (alias Penelope Paisley on Facebook) and similar activists who love to make “authoritative” scientific claims in submissions or behind the protection of a ring-fenced Facebook page or website participate in an honest open debate?

For a start – what about stopping these silly”challenges” in Paul Connett’s name. Then they could remove restrictions on the discussion on the websites and Facebook pages they control.

And, yes, I would be happy for them to participate in good faith scientific discussion in articles on this blog. That is what my offers of the right of reply to my articles were all about.

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Trump didn’t invent the problems – and his opponents didn’t invent protest

Anti-Trump rally. Union Square, Manhattan, New York. November 2016. Image credit: Kelly Kline

At last, I find myself agreeing with something written by PZ Myers – well, sort of. I agree with the main message in his article about the current US political mess  – It is disturbing that the news is all Russia all the time – but it really does not go far enough. It doesn’t identify what actions should be pursued – nor does it identify the problems that have resulted in his main complaint.

Let’s get the fallacy in his first sentence out of the way. A fallacy which undermines the rest of his argument. Talking about the current political turmoil in the US he says: “I agree that the administration’s Russian connection ought to be pursued.” But he doesn’t say why.

The Russophobic diversion

The fact is Russia is a normal and natural country in the modern world. Its economy has strong international links and it is only natural that business and political personalities in the US will have, or will have had, links to Russian business, diplomats, and political personalities. Just as they have, and will have had, links to such entities from other countries, the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Poland – and even little old New Zealand.

And that goes for US business and political personalities of all different political persuasions. Are US officials really going to get distracted by pursuing all these links, or even all the links with Russian entities? What about the international business links, including with Russia, of Democrat politicians – including the Clintons? What about the contact between Democrat politicians and Russian diplomats? Hell, should officials really investigate, and cast aspersions, on the many meetings ex-President Obama’s White House administration had with the Russian ambassador?

These links and contacts are perfectly natural in our modern global society – and they are only a current issue in the US because of the wave of neo-McCarthyism stalking that country. Neo-McCarthyism, we should remember, launched by Hillary Clinton to divert attention away from the political corruption in the Democratic Party revealed by Wikileaks. Neo-McCarthyism now maintained by Democrat politicians and anti-Trump elements of the intelligence community and mainstream media as a tool to control or limit the powers of the new administration.

Neo-McCarthyism is terribly dishonest and pernicious. It relies on Russophobia (which I often see as a form of racism – the last respectable form see Western racism and the stereotyping of Russians) and, in the end, the fear of being outed as a traitor, to bring people’s thinking “into line.”

And PZ Myers has fallen completely into that trap with this acceptance of neo-McCarthyism in his first sentence.

The real problems – and they aren’t new

But Myers goes on:

“but I am not happy that that is being treated as the primary reason to delegitimize Donald Trump. The man is a destructive incompetent with a fist full of bad policies, and the most effective way to bring him down is to expose the fact that his campaign staff talked to the Russian ambassador? What? Have you looked at what he is doing to the country right now? Because there is a whole lot of crap going down while we’re busy looking for Russians under the bed.”

Myers should be unhappy that such neo-McCarthyist reasons are used at all – from the point of view of democratic and human rights. But, yes, he makes a valid point – the neo-McCarthysim is a diversion. People should be paying attention to the real problems the US election result has left them with – a President and, probably more importantly, a Congress where anti-science and anti-human rights elements have been strengthened.

PZ illustrates this by listing some of the proposed cuts to the EPA budget. Others will find similar regressive proposed action in other areas. But PZ Myers is all at sea when it comes to fighting these problems:

“There is no single reason to rise up and throw these assholes out — they’ve provided an embarrassment of causes that make them terrible leaders, which is part of the problem, that the reasons for taking action have been diffused so widely. It seems to me that our targeting is off when conversations with Russian diplomats become the strongest reason for investigating the president, rather than his habit of appointing incompetents and looters like DeVos and Pruitt to run major government agencies.”

It is politically immature to see the solution as “to rise up and throw these assholes out.” Come off it. The president was legally elected. It is childish for the defeated parties to see “rising up and throwing out” elected leaders as a solution. Such advice, while it may appeal to the more emotional and immature, is a recipe for continued defeat, not a solution.

The fight-back is not new either

These problems upsetting people did not suddenly appear with the election of a new president. They have been there for a long time – as has the struggle against them. The election results did not create the problems – it simply made them worse.

Democratic and humanitarian-minded people (and science-minded people) have been fighting these problems for years. The fight against racism, environmental pollution, climate change denial and limitations on the reproductive and other rights of women is not new.

The fight-back uses many methods – lobbying and representation to Congressional committees, publicity in the mass media and alternative media,. petitions, citizen’s meetings. participation in political parties, rallies, and demonstrations.

No, the current rallies and demonstrations are not new. But, I am amazed that some people who have joined these, donned knitted pink hats and vented their feelings at anti-Trump rallies think they have invented something new. Perhaps the only new thing in their political activity has been the lack of clearly defined purpose. (And perhaps it is this focus on Trump himself which has made them susceptible to the ne0-McCarthist argument – to the extent they will often use it in their slogans).

Where have these people been? And that is a valid question as there is a school of thought that some of the current protesters had, in the past,  been lulled into inactivity, a false sense of contentment because they believed “their” democratic president was handling the situation. Solving all the problems. Stopping US interventions and war mongering overseas.

While it is true that Trump’s election may have encouraged some people to become active and to join the fight back, let’s not pretend the fight-back is at all new or that these newcomers have invented it. If anything, their lack of specific targets and resort to personal expression of their own anger is a bad sign, not a good one.

Because the fight back on all these important issues is not new and has developed its own maturity it will not disappear when the current highly motivated and emotional responses subside. Hopefully, many of the people who have joined the fight back because of their response to the presidential election result will stay and participate in the long-term struggles.

It would be nice to think that PZ Myers would get past his current emotional concept of the fight-back – “rising up and throwing out the assholes.” That he might actually participate in the day to day struggle of people fighting against the anti-democratic, anti-women, racist and anti-science policies.

Unfortunately, if his current habit of attacking people involved in these struggles because they do not measure up to his standards continue, this will not be the case.

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See also: The Democratic Party seems to have no earthly idea why it is so damn unpopular.

 

 

 

Madonna teaches us a lesson in critical thinking

Maybe just a small lesson – but an important one. We should always look at context and not cherry-pick that which confirms our bias. In particuilar, we shouldn’t simply repeat social media claims without doing a bit of fact-checking for ourselves.

It’s an important lesson at the moment because there is a lot of this going on in the social media hysteria surrounding the US presidential elections.

I was called out recently because I shared a Facebook meme questioning the moral authority of people like Madonna (who regularly makes lewd public performances) making moral judgments on the lewd language used by President Trump in a private conversation many years ago. The commenter suggested her lewd performances were irrelevant and that I should instead criticise her for making stupid and distasteful comments about blowing up the White House.

So, I decided to check out what she did say – and the video above is the section of her speech at one of the Women’s Marches where she referred to bombing the White House.

Putting Madonna’s famous comment in context

Now, I realise that the secret service is required to check out people who make comments like this – but it would be a perversion of justice for them to take any action against her. The context of the bombing comment makes clear she used the expression of personal thoughts as a rhetorical device to bring home her main message – which supported the direct opposite of such a terrorist act. In fact, she specifically said such an act would be pointless as it would change nothing (she is clearly wrong there as there would surely be huge changes  – but you get my point. She was not advocating anything like bombing).

Madonna has reacted to the news the secret service will investigate her with this comment:

“I am not a violent person, I do not promote violence and it’s important people hear and understand my speech in it’s entirety rather than one phrase taken wildly out of context.

My speech began with ‘I want to start a revolution of love,” Madonna wrote. “I spoke in metaphor and I shared two ways of looking at things — one was to be hopeful, and one was to feel anger and outrage, which I have personally felt. However, I know that acting out of anger doesn’t solve anything. And the only way to change things for the better is to do it with love.”

I think that sums up what she did say in that section of her speech and her critics should take that lesson on board.

But, not only her critics – also her supporters and allies. It is telling that one of those commenting on her explanation wrote:

“You want people to listen to your speech in its entirety and not a phrase taken wildly out of context….hmmmmm isn’t that what you and your followers have been doing to President Trump all along.”

To my mind, the extreme partisanship of social media commenters, and the #fakenews promoted by mainstream media, has often relied on such cherry picking and removal of context. It started early on in the US election campaign and is still proceeding. The recent rather undignified spat over the numbers attending the inauguration in the Mall, and the numbers observing it internationally on TV is just one example. It reflects how childish – on both sides – this spat between President Trump and the mainstream media has become.

Nor does it impress me that some otherwise rational social media commenters have taken the unfortunate “alternative facts” statement completely out of context to use as a political whip. Although, I suppose it does not surprise me. Even the most self-declared rational of us can be very irrational at times. It is part of being human.

Partisanship and a biased media is counterproductive

I wish we would all calm down and attempt to be more rational and critical in approaching news media reports of the current election hysteria. On the one hand, things do run a lot better when we avoid confirmation bias, partisanship and cherry-picking. (And we wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of being ‘unfriended” on facebook for questioning things).

On the other hand, I think this opinion piece today from Frank Bruni in the New York Time makes a point that opponents of President Trump have seemingly been oblivious to (see The Wrong Way to Take On Trump). This lack of critical thinking, the cherry-picking, partisanship , confirmation bias and #fakenews from a biased media, actually helped Trump win the election – and is currently probably helping to cement support from those who voted for him. He writes:

“There’s so much substantive ground on which to confront Trump. There are acres upon acres. Why swerve into the gutter? Why help him dismiss his detractors as people in thrall to the theater of their outrage and no better than he is?”

And why risk that disaffected Americans, tuning in only occasionally, hear one big mash of insults and insulters, and tune out, when there’s a contest — over what this country stands for, over where it will go — that couldn’t be more serious.”

I am sure that last point happened with people who may have supported or considered supporting Trump during the campaign. Once you have heard or seen a few reports full of what you know is #fakenews, personal attacks, partisan commentary, insults and swearing you do tend to turn off. You do tend not to trust future news reports, especially those ridiculing your possible electoral choice. And in the more committed cases, this experience of news you know to be fake means that from then on you will whole-heartedly accept the #fakenews from your own side. “The other side lied so what your side says must be true!”

In my own case, I know the experience of the partisanship and media bias during the US election campaign has made me very untrustful of the mainstream media – in fact, all the media. I now refuse to accept claims made in the news as factual until I can check them out for myself. I have sort of done this with Madonna’s speech here.

That means more work and a resignation that there are many things I will not form an opinion on (because I don’t have time to fact-check). But I feel better about myself – even if some of my associates may be upset that I don’t go along with their current thinking.

Note: The video above is also out of context – being just the part of Madonna’s speech relevant to her bombing comment. If you are really interested you can find her full speech here. I watched it and found myself becoming less and less sympathetic to her so won’t post the video here as it would sort of distract from my point.

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US elections – who should you be angry with?

us-election-data

I know – it is easy to blame others for an accident or a tragedy than it is to accept responsibility oneself. But  am amazed at the blame going around at the moment over the US presidential election result.

Trump’s election is being blamed on racist Americans, red-necks, the uneducated “deplorables,” Republican voters, third party voters, etc. People are out in the streets demonstrating, venting their anger on social media and generally working off their anger at a result that should not have been so surprising.

Not all, of course. Some people are looking at the results more critically – refusing to make such outrageous claims about their fellow citizens. I just wish more would do so.

In fact, the voting figures just do not support the outrageous claims being made. It is a bit simplistic to take just the bare party votes – but even these should give food for thought.

Fewer voters supported Trump than supported the Republican nominee in 2012 – almost 700,000 less. But the telling figures is that far fewer voters supported Clinton than supported the democratic nominee in 2012 – about 5 million less!

The difference with 2008 is even more striking – 8.7 million less.

The fact is that Democratic voters turned away from the democratic nominee in their droves. They did not go to Trump – they just didn’t vote.

It seems that both Clinton and Trump turned at least some of the voters off in this election. But the vote went to Trump because many more potentially Democratic voters just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for her.

Those anti-Trump demonstraters out on the streets at the moment are attacking the wrong target. They should get stuck into Clinton for being a lousy or unsuitable candidate. And the Democratic establishment for manipulating the system to allow her to become their candidate.

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